When diagnosis day came along and put a spanner in my plans for the new year, I made an extra resolution. And, it’s one I’d like to think I’ve kept. As soon as I walked out of that consulting room (well, maybe a bit later after I’d had a good cry), I decided that if I was going to go through the pain of active treatment, I would use it as a way to help others. From the beginning, I haven’t been in search of pity or sympathy (although I have learned that if you hug for about six seconds first thing it can change the course of a day). I have been in search of tips to brighten my journey – and the journeys of those who face cancer treatment in the future.
I love a good kit list (reminds me of preparing for camp as a child), so it has been a real joy to work on one over the last few months. I have poured over charity booklets (Breast Cancer Care and Macmillan being the most comprehensive), I have quizzed patients wearing lovely hats in hospital waiting rooms, I have Googled until my hands ache for products and solutions to help make life that little bit easier. I am a lot happier for it and I hope, by writing about it here, you (or someone you love) will be a lot happier too.
On the menu bar of my blog, you’ll find a new section called Cancer Kit List (click here to view). I have started with chemo and will be adding surgery as soon as I’ve typed up my notes. Of course, don’t have much radiotherapy wisdom yet, because it needs to happen first!
The emphasis here is on products rather than general tips (I am already working on those for later in the year). It’s personal and is in no way backed by companies or medical advisors. But, it’s my little way of shining a light on what can be a very dark time.
If I were to pick out just 10 things from the list (putting all medicines and prescription mouthwashes to one side) to create the ultimate chemo survivor’s guide, I’d select:
- Digital thermometer: This handbag essential will ensure you don’t have to camp out at A&E to find out the difference between a temperature and a hot flush!
- Dark nail varnish: Ok, so work colleagues and friends may think you have gone all goth on them (or arty in my case). But, by painting your nails, you can both strengthen them and disguise any discolouration and chemo lines! The choice of colours is endless. You could even use them to match your mood. Who said cancer treatment couldn’t be fun?!
- Extra strong mints: These little mints can reach tastebuds you thought were gone forever. I am still finding packets all over the house after stocking up mid chemo!
- Smoothie ice lollies: Making ice lollies in a kit from my childhood was fun in a nostalgic sort of way, but eating frozen smoothie lollies was about as exciting for me as ham on Christmas morning (and that is about as exciting as food gets for me)!
- A yoga bamboo turban: Whether you’re wedded to your wig or fancy tying complicated knots in your headscarves, I am a firm believer that we all need one easy-to-put-on-and-actually-rather-lovely hat. The yoga bamboo turban (made by Christine headwear) comes in so many colours and is so versatile (sport, relaxing at home, parties, work etc), you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one!
- Tissues: Ignore a lack of nose hair at your peril. And eyelashes for that matter. Also doubles up as toilet paper when you’re out and about, which is most useful!
- Children’s toothbrush: It’s a fact that children’s toothbrushes are far more exciting and colourful than adult equivalents. They are also, however, soft enough to look after your sensitive gums during chemo. Adult ones feel like you are brushing with a twig covered in spikes!
- Ribena: Ok, so you may not be a fan of the red stuff (especially after Epirubicin), but now is the time to discover just what water flavourings you do like! When the tastebuds disappear, water (which is essential for flushing the system) will be anything but appetising.
- LIMBO: Try showering without this waterproof arm protector when you’ve got a PICC line in and you’ll soon realise that attempting to keep one arm dry is neither fun nor practical.
- Lightweight scarf: With temperature changes, hot flushes and skin sensitivity on chemo, you could be forgiven for thinking you need a suitcase of clothes just to go for a walk. Big summer scarves (and there are some lovely ones out there) will be your jumper, your neck protector, your sunscreen, your windbreak and your style statement. And, they fold up to virtually nothing when you just want the comfort of knowing it’s in your bag if you need it.
Of course, there are many others (hence why I have started the cancer kit list), but these are the ones that continue to raise a smile, even though the chemo days are already starting to fade.
Every day, someone is called into a hospital consulting room and told they have cancer. Every day, someone will face a side effect of treatment for the first time and find a way to cope with it. By sharing tips and advice, it is my hope that every day in a cancer patient’s journey is one they are prepared to face.